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The corporate logo of Zynga Inc, the social network game development company, is shown at its headquarters in San Francisco in this April 26, 2012 file photo

ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS

Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc sued Zynga Inc on Friday, accusing the social gaming company of copying key elements of EA's "The Sims Social" game in Zynga's "The Ville."

The lawsuit alleges that "The Ville," a recently released game for the Facebook platform, "copied and misappropriated the original and distinctive expressive elements" of EA's title. The complaint was filed in the District Court for the Northern District of California.

In its lawsuit, EA said "The Ville" is "an unmistakable copy" of "The Sims Social."

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"Zynga's design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from 'The Sims Social.' The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable," Lucy Bradshaw, head of EA's Maxis label, said in a statement.

"The Sims Social" game, which allows players to create their own customizable characters and interact in a fictional town, was launched on Facebook in August last year.

Zynga announced its Facebook offering "The Ville," which allows users to dress their avatars, build homes and interact, in June as part of its "Ville" franchise.

"It's unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles," said Reggie Davis, Zynga's general counsel.

EA: Zynga had "private" information

The lawsuit alleges that Zynga obtained "private" information about "The Sims Social" development plans after hiring three of EA's top employees shortly before the game's launch.

In 2011, Zynga hired EA's chief operating officer, John Schappert, to take on a similar role at Zynga at a time when "'The Sims Social' was in its final stages of development and EA was preparing its rollout," the lawsuit said. It said other EA employees with knowledge of "The Sims Social" that followed Schappert to Zynga included Jeff Karp, now Zynga's top marketer, as well as Barry Cottle, a business development executive.

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"By early 2012, Zynga had targeted and hired away three of EA's top executives who had access to the most sensitive design, development, and strategic information about 'The Sims Social,'" EA alleged.

EA shares were up 4.5 per cent at $11.89 and Zynga shares were up 3.3 per cent at $2.79 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq.

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